"The Oaks" is the name of Lord Derby's mansion, located near Epsom in Surrey, south of London. Named after this residence is the famous 1-1/2 miles race run at Epsom Downs each June for three-year-old fillies, which provides them with yet another opportunity for English classic glory. Once again sponsored by Investec, this year's running is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. BST (8:35 p.m. IST) on Friday, June 1st.
At the time of writing, 14 distaff members of the crop of 2009 have been declared, although the ground is likely to affect the final composition of the field. While the conditions have been dry early in the week, a change in state of the turf is expected – with the probability of showers before the "off" being about 50%. If there is no rain, the clerk of the course may resort to mild watering.
No less than six of the runners have been entered by Ireland's champion trainer, Aidan O'Brien, amongst these being Maybe (by Galileo) who heads the betting market. However, he has warned that Kissed, the unbeaten (from 2 starts) daughter of Galileo, would not start unless the ground eased. Ryan Moore has been booked for the 15 to 2 chance and could miss out if she is withdrawn.
Given that O'Brien has already won the 2000 Guineas (through Camelot) and the 1000 Guineas (through Homecoming Queen) this season, it seems unlikely that anything can stop his juggernaut although his rivals must be encouraged by the fact that Mick Channon's Samitar broke his classic stranglehold in Ireland last week. Also, O'Brien has had a number of runners in the Oaks during the past five years, none of which has managed to get its nose in front at the wire.
Maybe, who was a staying-on third in the Qipco 1000 Guineas run in adverse conditions, has strong claims. Her last-out loss was the attractive filly's only career defeat from half a dozen starts. She is by the best stallion in the world, has Joseph O'Brien to guide her fortunes, and missed a start in the Etihad Airways Irish 1000 Guineas last week to tackle this race in preference. Perhaps because she has never won beyond 7 furlongs, Maybe is quoted at as long a price as 11 to 4.
Riding arrangements have been finalized for O'Brien's other runners as well. Regular Coolmore pilots Colm O'Donoghue and Seamus Heffernan will steer Betterbetterbetter (by Galileo) and Was (by Galileo) respectively. Outside talent has been summoned as well – Pat Smullen will associate himself with Twirl (by Galileo) while Richard Hughes has a rare ride for Ballydoyle astride Devotion (by Dylan Thomas). Oddly enough, Hughes has yet to record an English classic success.
Lord Andrew Lloyd Weber is rightly famous worldwide as the composer of musical hits such as Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Evita to name a few. Some may not be aware that he is equally fond of the turf and owns the Watership Down Stud near Newbury in Berkshire. Home-bred The Fugue (by Dansili), only a length behind Maybe in the Guineas, has taken the conventional path via the Musidora Stakes at York, a trial whose winners have provided three Oaks heroines in the past twenty years, namely Reams of Verse (1997), Alexandrova (2006), and Sariska (2009). The John Gosden-trainee is a 3 to 1 choice with William Buick in the saddle.
Rider Johnny Murtagh and trainer William Haggas know a thing or two about winning the Oaks, they having teamed up to triumph last year through the medium of Dancing Rain. This time they field Vow (by Motivator), who like Kissed is unbeaten at her only two career starts. The bay enjoys the inestimable advantage of having essayed the mile-and-a-half trip when making the Lingfield Oaks Trial Stakes her own. She sports the silks of one of the Highclere partnerships and has been backed down to 5 to 1.
Godolphin cannot be said to have started the 2012 season in Europe on a high note. However, the stable is chock-full of well-bred and potentially talented runners. One of these is the unbeaten Kailani (by Monsun), who could be anything. Both her parents are German-bred – about the top-class stallion, Monsun, not much needs to be said, while the dam, Kazzia, was a triple Group 1 winner. Amongst the trophies she brought home were those for the Sagitta 1000 Guineas and the Vodafone Oaks, and it will be interesting to see if Mikael Barzalona can get Kailani to emulate her dam. Mahmood Al Zarooni schools the 9 to 1 hope.
For those who are wondering why Frankie Dettori is without a mount, racing manager Simon Crisford had this to say: "Rides will be split across the board. They will all get equal opportunities. Frankie has to share the cake and he understands that. We brought in two new, young jockeys (Barzalona and Silvestre Da Sousa) and it is obviously important to give them opportunities".
"For years Frankie was our only retained jockey. We had other people who would regularly ride for us but it was an informal arrangement. These two jockeys are formally retained. I thought we made it reasonably clear at the time that, if any one of them struck up a winning combination with a certain horse, the chances are they are going to stay on that horse. Certainly that's Frankie's understanding of the situation."
The last runner worthy of a mention is the cleverly-named Coquet (by Sir Percy), whose dam is a half-sister to Alnasr Alwasheek, and who has been christened after a river which traverses the rolling countryside of the Percy Hunt in Northumberland. She has won her last three starts in the style of a good one and has the credentials to score. Robert Havlin continues his partnership with Hugh Morrison's ward, who presents some value at 25 to 1.
Maybe Kailani will Vow to win?